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Organic Community: Creating a Place Where People Naturally Connect (ēmersion: Emergent Village resources for communities of faith) Paperback – May 1, 2007
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From the Back Cover
Shaping environments where community emerges naturally
Can you really create community through master plans and elaborate strategies? Sometimes, says Joseph Myers--but more often, lasting authentic connections occur organically within healthy environments. Organic Community offers you practical guidance for helping your church or organization create spaces where community naturally comes into being.
"Once again, Myers hits a home run. Organic Community calls us all--church and congregants alike--to honesty about our goals and then offers us sophisticated, efficacious, and grace-filled ways to realize them."--Phyllis Tickle, contributing editor in religion, Publishers Weekly
"Looking back on twenty-four years of church planting and pastoral ministry, I wish I had thoroughly digested Organic Community before I got started. It would have saved so much wasted energy--mine, and those whose lives I foolishly tried to 'master plan.' This is a book I will reread and widely recommend."--Brian McLaren, author, activist; brianmclaren.net
"If a classic is something that has never finished what it has to say, then this little gem is a 'classic.'"--Leonard Sweet, E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism, Drew Theological School; distinguished visiting professor, George Fox University; www.wikiletics.com
"Myers acknowledges that his is a different kind of how-to book. As much, or more, it is a how-not-to book that exposes fallacies inherent in common organizational policies and procedures, which are all the more destructive in organizations relying on volunteer efforts."--Ray Oldenburg, emeritus professor of sociology, the University of West Florida; author, The Great Good Place
Joseph R. Myers is an entrepreneur, speaker, writer, and owner of FrontPorch, a consulting firm that helps churches, businesses, and other organizations promote and develop community. Author of The Search to Belong, Myers is also a founding partner of the communication arts group settingPace, based in Cincinnati, Ohio.
About the Author
Joseph R. Myers is an entrepreneur, speaker, writer, and owner of FrontPorch, a consulting firm that helps churches, businesses, and other organizations promote and develop community. Author of The Search to Belong, Myers is also a founding partner of the
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Myers explains that one of the failures of church leaders is their tendency (actually, its everyone's tendency) to see what works in other congregations and assume that such an effective "pattern" will work everywhere. This makes the pattern "prescriptive." As Myers puts it:
"Prescriptive patterns rarely start out as such. They are usually rooted in descriptive patterns. We see or experience a pattern that "works," and then we assume that if we repeat the pattern exactly, we can manufacture the same result. This works almost well enough often enough to convince us that it could work all the time" (40).
Hence, this book meticulously tries to avoid giving its readers a "pattern" or "Master Plan" of creating community. Instead, Myers provides his readers with organizational "tools," helping them to see how such tools work in the context of a "master plan" as well as in the context of "organic order" (which is what we are really trying to achieve).
One of the most useful observations he makes regards the role of measurement. Myers explains,
* We measure that which we perceive to be important.
* That which we measure will become important and will guide our process.
* That which we do not measure will become less important.
"Measurement has dynamic power over the journey and the results. It is not neutral. The measurement is the message."
In other words, if a church is going to carefully measure attendance and cash flow, and make this measurement part of the pastor's annual review, then the pastor will start to focus heavily on simply getting a bunch of people to attend the church, and to get big offerings every Sunday. This will leave the process of discipleship neglected. And this is an excellent observation of Myers'.
Another useful highlight of the book is the discussion on growth. Myers uses the example of a young couple (Matt and Angie) that is about to purchase a house:
The decision Matt and Angie make will affect their future financial growth. Should they choose the newer home at the top of their price range, they will have to carefully watch what they spend. The bulk of their housing dollar will go toward the mortgage. There will be very little left over to replace the water heater in five years or upgrade the plumbing in twenty.
When these maintenance issues arise, Matt and Angie's budget will be strained, and they may have to reduce the amount of money they direct toward their retirement or college savings plans for the kids.
Should they choose the older home in the median of their price range, they will have some breathing room. When something breaks down in the house, there may be less stress about finding money to make the repair. Their retirement savings will likely not be jeopardized, and Matt and Angie's plans for funding their children's education will probably remain intact. (85-87)
The analogy here is obvious. If a church puts all of its resources into getting a particular program up an running, it will end up consuming resources that are normally applied to other things. And by "resources" Myers does not simply mean money, he means time and emotional energy. For example, Mike (a small groups pastor) has invested all of the church's resources into his small groups program:
Mike had not anticipated that those who met in the Wednesday night small groups would then limit their involvement in other groups, Even though the other groupings--women's ministries, Bible studies, choir, the church volleyball league--didn't meet on Wednesday nights, ministry leaders began to see a dramatic dip in attendance. Michelle, the youth pastor, complained that key adult sponsors had quit and she couldn't find replacement because people's primary obligation was now to their small groups. The choir lost half its embers. George [the pastor] had his hands full with all the complaining about Mike's small group program. (88)
These are some of the more helpful aspects of the book. And for this reason I really do recommend it. But I have two serious complaints:
1. Myers needs to provide clear examples of some of the principles he describes. Much of the time he simply describes things in abstraction, and you really have no way to grasp what he is saying.
2. I cannot, for the life of me, figured out what has happened to Joseph Myers. His old website ([...]) has not been updated for years. He hasn't written a blog entry for 2 or 3 years now. His other company ([...]) appears to be out of business. I found what their website used to be by using the Internet Archive ("wayback machine"). It hasn't been on the Internet since 2008. Why is this important to me? For this reason: If this guy is going to be credible to me, if he is going to really seem like a good authority on understanding how organization and community function, then it would be nice to know that he is successfully implementing all of these principles somewhere. But, to all appearances, it looks as though his companies and organizations have shut down. I have no clue as to his whereabouts. And I even tried calling the phone numbers that appeared on his old web pages just to see if his company was still in business. I simply got the usual "this number has been disconnected" message. So, the mystery continues . . .